HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — The five members of the Township Committee voted unanimously Monday to terminate a lease agreement with the Mizpah Volunteer Fire Company, effective Dec. 31.
Mizpah fire Chief Jay Davenport II and firefighter Craig Paxton were charged in October with official misconduct, conspiracy and theft.
The township closed the Mizpah firehouse and voted to temporarily seize and secure township-owned vehicles, equipment and supplies and ceased immediately all funding of the company. The Richland Volunteer Fire Company in Buena Vista Township is now providing fire service for the area.
Since the fire company has ceased operations, the township has been unable to find the paperwork that identifies who serves on the Mizpah fire company’s board of directors, Township Administrator Arch Liston said Tuesday. Every nonprofit has to have a board of directors, and all five township fire companies, including Mizpah, are 501c3 nonprofits.
The legal recommendation was that the township stop the leasing of the firehouse on DeHirsch Avenue, Liston said.
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If the fire company wants to reorganize down the road, the township can reconsider the leasing of the building, Liston said.
“At this point, to spend any more tax dollars on it is a waste of money,” said Liston, who said later in the meeting that the lease would have automatically renewed without Township Committee action.
The vote to terminate the lease agreement was to protect the township legally as it works its way through its investigation, said Mayor Art Schenker. The township is conducting its own investigation while the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office conducts its criminal investigation.
“As we find things out, there are some things we are going to have to do to correct certain situations as we move forward,” said Schenker, who added the township solicitor also advised the committee to end the leasing agreement.
The township is trying to find out who owns the firehouse, Schenker said.
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There has been one false alarm fire call in Mizpah since the fire company was shut down. There was a dispute over how long it took the Richland fire company to respond. An official said 2 minutes. A member of the public said 12 minutes.
“We have a problem with a firehouse, and we are trying to deal with it. It wasn’t a small problem,” said Schenker, who added Richland has done a fantastic job so far.